Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees tended to believe that their employer and colleagues possessed the same qualities of dependability, accountability and professionalism as they themselves did. It was an easy conclusion to reach because everyone saw each other at work every day. If a co-worker wasn’t in the office on a particular day, that employee was typically either on vacation or home sick. With home-working, this isn't always the case, so people are interested in tips for improving virtual team trust.
Now that work structures are a combination of on-site, remote and hybrid, it’s easy for employees to feel as though they’re being left out of the loop for everything from business-related decisions to off-work socializing events. As their manager, it’s up to you to improve virtual team trust. Here are some suggestions that you can tailor to your unique work environment.
Improving Virtual Team Trust
1. Embrace structure and routine: If your department had in-person morning meetings every day at 9 a.m. pre-COVID, continue the precedent via video calls. Some of your attendees might meet online from home while others might call in from their on-site offices, but it will keep the lines of communication open. Plus, a familiar occurrence during unusual times can often be reassuring to employees.
2. Be transparent and include everyone: Don’t just choose the usual employees for the new campaign’s brainstorming sessions or to coordinate the annual office celebrations. Open all opportunities to everyone. Create agendas for gatherings and take minutes at meetings, and then publish those notes on the company intranet. Keep everyone in the loop.
3. Be explicit about expectations: Don’t assume that everyone understands the company’s work culture and jargon from your point of view. For example, time no longer has much meaning to people who are working remotely. The “end of the business day” might be 5 p.m. to you but could be 3:30 p.m. to someone who needs to pick up a child from school or daycare, or even midnight to a millennial. If you want a project finished and submitted by a certain time in a particular time zone, make that information clear to your staff. Use email and put it in writing.
4. Offer and encourage continuing education: Give your employees opportunities to learn new skills and improve the ones they already have, even if it means they might leave your company for a position elsewhere that pays better. If you have been a good boss running an exemplary company, hopefully they will continue to work for you even when their skill levels increase.
5. Be flexible: Don’t make a big deal if an employee requests time off from work at the last minute. The days of planned schedules and expected occurrences continue to be on hold. It’s possible your staffer is dealing with a greater emergency at home than you will experience by being short an employee for a day.
6. Use technology for one-on-one meetings: Video conferencing isn’t just for addressing the masses during all-staff meetings. Set aside some time to meet virtually with your work-from-home employees individually. Give everyone plenty of notice and let them pick the time of day when they least need to worry about privacy and interruptions at home.
7. Recognize new successes: Times have changed. Your expectations from your employees have changed. Your recognitions for jobs well done can change, too. For example, in addition to an employee award for perfect attendance, add upbeat awards for best video conference background or favorite remote team-building activity. Better yet, let your staff contribute ideas for the revamped categories.
8. Provide a safe work culture: Tornado drills and fire extinguisher training aren’t just for grade school children or industrial employees. Remind your staff on an ongoing basis that their safety is important to you. Provide safety drills in the event of tornadoes, fire and earthquakes.
9. Recognize and address employee burnout: In many cases, your staff members are working, living, eating, and sleeping within the same four walls. It’s easy to imagine that many employees may feel isolated and become disengaged from their workplace and colleagues after months in that situation.
Here are some signs of burnout to watch for in your staff:
· Appearing physically tired or emotionally drained
· Demonstrating increased absenteeism
· Exhibiting high sensitivity to feedback or criticism
· Displaying physical symptoms, such as weight gain or weight loss
· Providing decreased work productivity
Offer your staff options to improve their unique work-life balance situations. This might mean making the office building available to off-site employees on various days of the week, so they can have a change of scenery. You could also offer in-person, open-air staff meetings on an outdoor patio, in a nearby park, or even in a small section of your parking lot. Wrap up the outdoor meeting with a visit to a favorite food truck.
10. Be professional, respectful and courteous: Treat your colleagues the way you would like to be treated. Smile; greet each other; say “thank you” and “you’re welcome”; and offer assistance without waiting to be asked.
Be a Company Where People Want To Work
There are plenty of apps and websites that enable current and former employees to anonymously post their opinions of your business, its work culture and even the organization’s president. If your staff members can’t think of anything good to say about working for you, should you expect to be able to attract the best and the brightest employees in the future?
In these uncertain times, employees are re-evaluating their employment options and resigning from their jobs in record numbers. Your employees may have left other businesses to come and work for you. Work to improve virtual team trust and be the company to which employees not only want to come, but also want to remain.
AUTHOR BIO: Adam Berke is the co-founder and CEO of WorkPatterns, a company focused on cultivating the habits of great leaders and effective operators to help organizations around the world achieve their mission. Prior to that, he was part of the founding team of NextRoll (formerly AdRoll) and helped grow the company from three to 700 employees around the world. Along the way, he faced the personal challenges of evolving from being an individual contributor on the founding team, to becoming a manager, and eventually an executive who hired and managed other managers as the company grew.